Mont Chauve is Nice’s hidden mountain. It is hiding in plain sight, sitting there just to the north, right above the city, but nevertheless it is hidden. Who comes up here?
Local mountain bikers know the trails, and at weekends the people of Nice take to the paths to walk their dogs, but most road cyclists give it a miss. They do not even know there’s a road up, which leaves it deliciously free for the locals.
‘Mont Chauve’ means the 'bald mountain' – it is the miniature Niçois version of the much better known ‘Mont Chauve’, Mont Ventoux, in Provence. It may be considerably inferior in height to the Giant of Provence, but Nice’s Mont Chauve is superior in numbers. There are actually two peaks: the Mont Chauve de Tourette (785m) and the Mont Chauve d’Aspremont (853m).
It is near this latter that the road leads. While many would judge the real climb to be about 5km long, starting just outside the village of Falicon, perched high between the Var and the Paillon rivers, one of the main attractions for local bike riders is that it can be accessed from any one of myriad roads leading from central Nice.
Take the Cimiez road up from Café du Cycliste on the Port, past Queen Victoria’s favourite hotel, Roman ruins and the Chagall and Matisse museums. Thread your way past the tower blocks of Las Planas, or even tackle the incredibly steep Vieux Chemin de Gairaut. Then take a short descent past Au Rendez-Vous des Amis, one of our favourite restaurants, turn right and you’re there.
The rest of the road is narrow, its surface is degraded and the elegant military engineering of its switchbacks is slowly decaying into the vegetation. But what you get up here is solitude, within 10 kilometres of the centre of the bustling metropolis. Sometimes the foliage hides the views over the coast, the better to surprise you when you reach the top.
At a certain point a barrier will bar the way, but keep going. Quickly you will be climbing the tight set of switchbacks that continues for longer than seems possible and finishes under a collection of commercial telecoms masts.
Then there is one final turn to reach the huge fort perched on Mont Chauve's peak. Built on this eagle’s vantage point to protect Nice and all the coast from the Italian border to the Esterel hills behind Cannes, it can be explored by foot via the paths that encircle it .